Another way to look at paperwhites


Above are Inbal, Grand Soleil d’Or, Martinette and Golden Rain.

Of course I mean tazettas, and they’re given rather short shrift by even the most ardent of bulb addicts, for several good reasons, as follows:

In most U.S. zones they are one-time use only.
The stems are lanky.
The flowers are small.
Finally, and most damningly, to the majority of noses, they just plain stink.

All of this is true. IF, that is, you limit yourself to the most common variety, Ziva. Thanks to a strong and urgent need to grow flowers in the winter and a tolerance for the strong fragrance, I started buying Ziva eight years ago. And then came the epiphany: there were other, better tazetta varieties than Ziva. Most take longer to flower—some a month or more longer—and most are not as floriferous as Ziva, but the pay-offs are worth the caveats. My current favorites are Grand Soleil d’Or and Golden Rain, a double variant of Grand. These take a good six-eight weeks to come out but you get lovely, long-lasting golden flowers with a mild, sweet fragrance. You see them above. (I’ve gotten these through Brent and Becky’s.)

Other excellent options are the tazetta varieties sold by Old House Gardens; two I’ve tried are Avalanche and Grand Primo. These will need a two-week chilling period (a cold, dark room is fine), but they give you a true grassy daffodil fragrance. If they’re kept in good sunlight after the dark period, you won’t get any bud blast.

Yeah, it is a bit harder to work with these varieties, but so what. Nothing I do indoors is nearly as onerous as what I go through outside every summer. (What is it with that anyway? Why are a few minor chores and a few fatalities such a huge deal indoors when we have ten times the hassle outside all summer long and don’t mind a bit? I sort of get it, but still.)

So here’s my advice: if paperwhites are synonymous with Ziva for you, you might want to give them another shot. Really.

Previous articleMacArthur Award goes to Urban Farming Guru
Next articleAnd you can get all crafty (tazettas, part II)
Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Sigh. I bought daffodils and minis and one tazetta variety. I planned to put them all in the ground with our grand border re-do this weekend. Problem is that there are still about 25 plants left over and no place to stick anything else, including the bulbs. At least I got the alliums in. So, I guess I plan to force ALL the daffodils I bought. Wish me luck. I bought these: Thalia, Pheasant’s Eye, New Baby, Minnow (tazetta), Geranium (oh, another tazetta!), Glen Clova, and Sun Disc.

  2. Cornell University did a study growing paperwhites in a solution of 1 part gin to 7 parts water. The blooms were the same size, but on stalks that were 1/3 shorter so they didn’t need to be staked.
    Just like humans, plants can suffer from too much alcohol so you have to get the proportions correct. Also, don’t substitute beer or wine because the sugars cause major problems for plants.
    I haven’t tried it yet, because I read about the study in April so this winter will be my first chance.

  3. I must be wired differently, for I like the smell of Paperwhites/Ziva, but I also like the smell of Salvias, Boxwoods, and Society Garlic.

    In response to the above comment from Jan – is this really the best use for gin? I think it is much better used by the gardener than by the plants.

  4. I think they smell fabulous. There were paperwhites at my house when I moved in 28 years ago. They have proved to be the most hardy, best multipliers and best fragant of all the thousands of bulbs I have planted since. — and I am in Texas where growing stuff is often darn hard.

  5. Last winter it was war at my house. I grew my beloved paaperwhites (it’s just not Christmas without them), only to be told by significant other that they stink. I love the fragrance even though I do admit they are strong. So I simply ignored him, he protested more, saying they were making him ill. I figured he must be exaggerating. Until I read online that people can have totally opposing experiences with this scent. So, off they went to a far corner, and this year, alas, no paperwhites. Just more amaryllis!

  6. I put paperwhites in a dish and grew them indoors. When they bloomed, I put them in the room where my husband telecommuted for work so he could enjoy some pretty flowers as he worked. When I came home from work, I found them by the front door. Upon questioning them being placed outside, he ranted that they smell just like a computer when it’s on the verge of frying itself and was in a state of panic for nearly half an hour as he rushed to back everything up before his computers died before realizing the smell was the flowers and not his hard drive.

Comments are closed.